THE JOHNNIE Walker Championship has been dropped from the 2014 European Tour schedule due to fears that it would “compromise” the Ryder Cup when it is staged at Gleneagles in just under two years’ time.
Confirmation of tournament chairman Colin Montgomerie’s prediction about the event in The Scotsman yesterday has now been delivered by all parties involved in its successful staging at the Perthshire venue over the past 13 years.
An earlier slot in the schedule was considered, with Celtic Manor having hosted the Wales Open four months before it staged the 2010 Ryder Cup.
However, that possibility has been ruled out at Gleneagles, although, as Montgomerie also hinted, the tournament will be returning in 2015.
“With regret we have accepted that we have no option but to postpone the Johnnie Walker Championship for a year,” said championship director Graeme Marchbank.
“The Johnnie Walker Championship is a major highlight in the calendar for Diageo and a key commercial platform for us so we are naturally disappointed to miss a year.
“However, as the owner of Gleneagles and as an official partner of the 2014 Ryder Cup, Diageo is also working closely with our partners at theEuropean Tour to help deliver a fantastic event.
“We are also working closely with the Scottish Government on maximising the wider benefit of the Ryder Cup to Scotland. Over the next two years we will be focusing all of our efforts on the goal of delivering the best possible Ryder Cup in 2014.
“We are delighted that, in 2015, the Johnnie Walker Championship will return to Gleneagles in partnership with the European Tour.”
The scale of the Ryder Cup has grown immeasurably from the last time the biennial contest was held in Scotland – at Muirfield in 1973 – and European officials are keen to see preparations take place without any hiccups.
“We are very grateful to the management of both Diageo, the owners of Johnnie Walker, and the Gleneagles Hotel for agreeing to postpone the Johnnie Walker Championship so that preparations for the Ryder Cup can begin as planned in July 2014,” said the event’s European director, Richard Hills.
“The magnitude of The Ryder Cup is such that trying to host the Johnnie Walker Championship in the same season would have compromised both events.”
Having lost a number of events in 2012, it will be a blow to the players to see an event like the Johnnie Walker Championship drop off the schedule, although the Tour are pleased it will be back the following year.
“We looked at re-scheduling the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles to an earlier week on the 2014 schedule but a suitable date could not be found,” said Keith Waters, the tour’s chief operating officer.
“But we are delighted all parties have agreed to re-schedule the championship for 2015.”
Albeit under different guises, the event has been a constant feature on the schedule since the inaugural title was won by Englishman Warren Bennett in 1999.
Other winners since then have included Paul Casey (2001 and 2006), Adam Scott (2002), Marc Warren (2007), Edoardo Molinari (2010), Thomas Bjorn (2011) and Paul Lawrie, who thrilled the home crowds by celebrating his Ryder Cup return by storming to a four-shot success earlier this year.
The decision to not stage the event in 2014 means next year’s tournament – from 22-25August – will be the last chance for Ryder Cup hopefuls to play the Jack Nicklaus-designed PGA Centenary Course before the match against the Americans.
It will be interesting to see if that will lead to the likes of Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald, the world No 1 and No 2 respectively, giving serious consideration to adding it to their schedules.
McIlroy has only played at Gleneagles once before, missing the cut in 2008 after rounds of 76 and 74, although he went out the following week and finished second in the European Masters in Switzerland.
There’s already a chance that the 2013 line-up could be boosted by the presence of some leading Americans after newly-appointed captain Tom Watson said he’d like potential team members to play at Gleneagles before 2014.
And, if fans’ favourite Watson decided to play himself next September, that would go some way to compensating for the event disappearing for a year.